The door to the baseball clubhouse swung open, and into the room walked Eric Hosmer, a water bottle clutched in his arm, an American flag on his cap, a gold medal hanging from his neck.
Hosmer, the Royals’ first baseman, returned to camp at just past 8 a.m. Friday morning after helping the United States conquer the World Baseball Classic. And as the room perked up upon his entrance, Hosmer had just one question.
“Where’s Salvy at?” he asked.
Hosmer kept walking, moving through the middle of the clubhouse and turning right toward the in-house kitchen, where a dozen or so players were poking at plates of eggs and eating breakfast. As he disappeared from view, Hosmer found Royals catcher Salvador Perez. The room exploded in a din of laughter and shouting.
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Hosmer and teammate Danny Duffy had been away from camp for more than two weeks, competing for the United States in WBC rounds in Miami, San Diego and Los Angeles. They rejoined their teammates 10 days before opening day, carrying memories, medals and bragging rights into the Royals’ clubhouse.
“At the beginning of it,” Hosmer said, “(Team) USA didn’t really get enough credit for how much we cared about winning for our country, and I think it grew on everybody as the tournament went on. It meant a lot for all of us players.”
The United States’ roster lacked a deep cast of superstars, including Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard and many others. The rotation was made up of Duffy, Toronto’s Marcus Stroman, Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer and Washington’s Tanner Roark. By the end, it didn’t matter.
As the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico invigorated the tournament with their passion, energy and jubilant fan bases, the United States stormed to its first gold medal in the fourth edition of the World Baseball Classic. As Duffy stood in front of his locker Friday, the unexpected nature of the title increased the satisfaction.
“No disrespect to anybody,” Duffy said. “But we felt a tad bit disrespected as a group. We didn’t choose to not have these people not show up, or not come, or not volunteer to be a part of it. We wanted to be a part of it. And we felt as though, as a staff at least, we wanted to be there.”
By the end, after the United States had routed Puerto Rico 8-0 in the championship game on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, the two Royals on Team USA had left their fingerprints all over the trophy.
Hosmer batted .385 (10 for 26) with a .615 slugging percentage, leading the USA team in OPS and tying for the most hits. He clubbed the go-ahead home run in a thrilling 4-2 victory over Venezuela in the second round in San Diego. He won his first title in an international event after winning championships at the major-league level (2015 World Series), the minors and in high school.
“We kept saying: ‘There’s nothing wrong with some champagne in March,’ ” Hosmer said.
As Hosmer helped carry the offense, Duffy bolstered the Americans’ starting pitching with two strong starts, including a clutch performance in an elimination game against the Dominican Republic in the second round. In eight innings across two starts, he allowed just one earned run while striking out eight. On Friday, he reflected on what the experience meant.
“The Latin American countries, the people are incredible,” Duffy said. “They’re so on fire about the game, in a completely different way. This country is on fire about the game, too. But they show it a lot differently, and it’s really cool to see.”
In the weeks before the tournament, Syndergaard, the Mets’ hard-throwing ace, made news by professing all-out apathy for the event.
“Ain’t nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or win a World Series playing in the WBC,” he told reporters in early March.
Duffy wished to make it clear that he was casting no judgment on players who elected not to play. But he sought to make a clear contrast, nonetheless, stating that he hoped more stars would play for the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic in 2021.
“I saw what Syndergaard said, and everything aside, I would never take a shot at anybody,” Duffy said. “ ‘You never win a World Series, you never win a Hall of Fame vote by going to the WBC.’ That’s all good and fine. But you win a gold.
“And that’s one thing I will never forget. And if you don’t feel passionate about the WBC, that’s fine. But a lot of us do. We got to play for our country. We got to bring a gold home.”
For Duffy, the experience offered a shot of confidence as the regular season approaches. He returned to the mound Friday in the Cactus League and allowed three runs in six innings against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria. He is scheduled to make his final spring start Wednesday, and barring a change in the rotation, he will start opening day on April 3 at Minnesota.
For Hosmer, who is expected back in the lineup this weekend, the experience offered increased exposure and two weeks spent with some of the best players in the game. He built relationships with Miami’s Christian Yelich and Colorado’s Nolan Arenado. Hosmer spent one day listening to Detroit’s Ian Kinsler and Washington’s Daniel Murphy talk hitting in a batting cage.
“It made the whole entire trip worth it,” Hosmer said. “Just to hear the knowledge.”
He also added another bullet point to his burgeoning resume. In the span of 17 months, Hosmer has hoisted a World Series trophy, received Most Valuable Player honors at the All-Star Game, and won a gold medal at the World Baseball Classic. He is scheduled to become a free agent when the 2017 season is over, and for a moment on Friday, he pondered his next goal.
The gold medal was nice. Another postseason run would be better.
“You can’t ever win too many World Series rings, so, yeah, we still got a lot more of those to tally up,” Hosmer said, smiling. “I remember the parade in Kansas City. It was pretty fun. I’d like to have another one of those.”